Opinion Columns & Blogs

Mark Hague: Heartland depends on clean water


Protecting the heartland’s streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act, passed in 1972, helps our communities and is vital to our economy, health, safety and quality of life. During the past 43 years, the Environmental Protection Agency, the states and local partners have worked tirelessly to clean up once-polluted rivers and streams.

The act also protects our smaller rivers and streams in Kansas – such as the Cowskin Creek and Chisholm Creek, which flow into rivers such as the Arkansas, Little Arkansas and Ninnescah.

Agricultural interests, public health officials, recreational small businesses and all the rest of us rely on clean water for our lives and livelihoods.

Though we’ve come a long way and dealt with the biggest issues, work remained. EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have worked together to resolve, through a new clean water rule, the inconsistencies that existed after two U.S. Supreme Court decisions. The rule more clearly protects the streams and wetlands that are scientifically shown to have the greatest impact on downstream water quality and form the foundation of the nation’s water resources.

About 117 million Americans – 1 in 3 – get drinking water from streams that lacked clear protection before the rule. Clean and reliable water is an economic driver, including for agriculture, manufacturing, tourism, recreation and energy production. Farms depend on water for livestock, crops and irrigation.

Finally, we all rely on the healthy ecosystems in these upstream waters to provide us natural places to fish, boat, swim and enjoy the outdoors. And, of course, when drinking-water sources are cleaner, people are healthier. We all win.

In developing the rule, we held more than 400 meetings with stakeholders across the country and reviewed more than a million public comments. We held numerous roundtables and meetings with the agricultural, business and environmental communities in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.

The agricultural community and other stakeholders provided valuable input that shaped the final rule. This input and the latest science led us to provide more clarity regarding tributaries, which are being protected under the Clean Water Act. A tributary must show physical features of flowing water – a bed, bank and ordinary high-water mark – to warrant protection.

The rule clarifies the definition of ditches. Ditches that are not constructed in streams and that flow only when it rains are not covered.

We listened to the public and made changes to the final rule as part of our commitment to getting it right. The clean water rule will be effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

Visit epa.gov/cleanwaterrule to learn more about the final rule and the Clean Water Act.

Mark Hague is the acting regional administrator for Environmental Protection Agency Region 7, which includes Kansas.